Skip to main content

Remembering Arch; looking to COP27, welcoming small steps on nuclear weapons

Share this:
Mary Robinson looks back on the past 12 months and emphasises the importance of beginning the new year with hope.

Dear friends, 

This turning of the year is a bittersweet moment for many as we reflect on those we have lost in the past 12 months.  

Graça Machel and I spent New Year’s Day at the funeral of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a beloved friend and the first Chair of The Elders. His passing on 26 December saw a global outpouring of sadness, but also many recollections of wonderful, inspiring moments of his rich, joyful and courageous life. 

“Arch” was a driving force in making The Elders what it is today, as these wonderful reflections and tributes from Elders, Elders Emeritus and our Advisory Council attest. 

His words, his life and his legacy will continue to inspire all that we do as Elders in the year ahead. Arch would often talk of ‘Ubuntu’, the African concept that we are only human through the humanity we show to others. In committing to put this idea into practice in our daily lives, we can all pay tribute to his legacy. 

Too often in 2021, leaders failed to act according to the values Arch spent his life advocating.   

They did not act with boldness and urgency to tackle the pandemic - and the chasms of inequality and injustice it has opened up - as a global challenge that needs global solutions.  

They did not constrain the aggressive nationalism and political cynicism Arch deplored, which have continued to drive conflicts and suffering worldwide: from Ethiopia and Afghanistan to Myanmar and Palestine. 

They did not respond to the global refugee crisis with the ambition, solidarity and empathy it deserves. 

As Elders we have engaged publicly and privately on these matters. Our aim is to focus on tackling the root causes of global problems, to hold leaders accountable for their actions, and to speak truth to power, however unpopular that may be – as Arch always did. 

Accountability is especially key to securing the action the world needs on the climate crisis in 2022. It is certainly to be welcomed that, following the COP26 summit in Glasgow last November, all countries now accept the necessity of being aligned to an emissions pathway that will keep global temperature rises to 1.5°C. To do so, the promises made at COP26 need to be kept, or faith in the multilateral process could be fatally undermined.  

The Elders and others will be discussing these issues in depth at a live virtual event on climate action on 26 January – I invite you to join us.  It will be a chance to hear how we will be pushing hard for more ambition on reducing emissions – and more climate justice for those most affected by the climate emergency – ahead of  COP27 in Egypt in November. 

We also start the year with hope. In a statement released on 3 January the world's five nuclear states affirmed that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” - a statement The Elders have long been calling for, and I have welcomed. These are simple words, but they demonstrate tremendous potential for collaboration between nations to reduce the risks of the unimaginable horrors of nuclear war.  It is now time for that potential to be realised, and words turned into actions. 

In 2022, The Elders will mark our 15th anniversary – for which we have launched an interactive timeline of our work and achievements. Reflecting on our friends who have left the stage, including Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan and Arch, will bring some poignant moments this year. But there is also much to celebrate! In their spirit and memory, we will recommit ourselves with humility to uphold the goals of peace, justice and human rights that they championed with such passion throughout their lives.  

With my thanks for your continued support and all best wishes for the year ahead, 

Mary Robinson 

Sign up for updates

Adapted from The Elders' monthly newsletter. Sign up for regular email updates from The Elders.

Share this article

Keep up to date with The Elders’ COVID-19 digest:

Sign up to receive regular updates about The Elders’ activities during the COVID-19 pandemic. We will never share your email address with third parties.

Keep up to date with The Elders latest News and Insight:

Sign up to receive monthly newsletters from The Elders. We will occasionally send you other special updates and news, but we'll never share your email address with third parties.


I would like to find: